Sunday 28 May 2017

Reddan inspired by fight for No9 jersey

David Kelly

David Kelly

Funny how the world turns. Four years ago Eoin Reddan was the form scrum-half in Europe and the only Irishman to bring a Heineken Cup winner's medal from that season to Ireland's gloomy Bordeaux base.

Yet, Peter Stringer and Isaac Boss were ahead of him in the pecking order for the opening two pool matches against Namibia and Georgia before Eddie O'Sullivan decided to cull Stringer for only the second time in his then eight-season career.

Bizarrely -- albeit little of what happened during that fateful September was anything other than surreal -- Reddan leapfrogged above Boss to start against France in Paris. Ireland's World Cup would begin to click, the public was hesitantly informed. I suspect you recall what happened next.

Four years later, Reddan is embroiled in another scrap for the No 9 jersey and does so with another Heinken Cup medal in his back pocket.

Much has been made of the five-way scrap for the position this time around but, with the luckless Stringer allowed to decamp to La Rochelle this weekend and Declan Kidney unlikely to shoehorn a greenhorn Conor Murray into his World Cup 30, Reddan and Boss again, along with the coach's preferred starter, Tomas O'Leary, are likely to be World Cup-bound.

Perhaps Murray and Boss may still have to play off for the third slot; one never can be sure when assessing Kidney's next move.

What is certain is that Reddan will have his sights set on earning a starting berth.

At least he'll be prepared this time. When he was plucked from obscurity in Bordeaux in 2007 -- he had only made one Test start, for a second-string side against Argentina, plus two replacement appearances -- he caused one of those rare moments of hilarity amidst a month of gloom.

No, he told reporters, he hadn't played with Ronan O'Gara much. "I've trained with him a lot though!"

Ireland, everyone hopes, will be a tad more prepared this time around. On Saturday, Reddan gets his chance to impress Kidney when he will more than likely be partnered with O'Gara for much of the evening.

Given last weekend's scrappy effort by all concerned, Reddan won't have been too displeased at being pitched into battle this weekend -- he is likely to share time with Boss -- away to a French side who have already inked in their 30-man squad.

"The competition is great, you know," says Reddan in that infectious Limerick drawl of his. "Everyone works as hard as they can anyway, but there's the added bit that if you get in the team you know you're doing well.

"It's good for the squad because you don't want to be playing your way into form, you want to earn that jersey, and that's the way it should be for any international team. It's certainly the case for Ireland at the moment and it's a proud day, particularly at scrum-half, if you get the nod.

"Every situation throws up a different mental challenge. Everyone's working as hard as they possibly can, so it's hard to say that another guy in the mix makes you try harder when you were probably going 100pc anyway. But the game is full of different challenges every day and if there's more competition, that's something you have to deal with and produce the goods."

Kidney hasn't promised every player a game before the extended squad is culled in the week leading up to this month's final warm-up game against England in Lansdowne Road; hence, each opportunity needs to be seized upon with relish.

"He'll do the best he can," Reddan affirms. "His ultimate goal is to win the World Cup so I presume he'll operate in the way he sees fit for that. The squad have to trust that and I think they do. Last week we had an extra week of pre-season while the other lads played and we have to use that to our advantage and get the most out of all those weights and fitness sessions.

"I'm sure Declan's aware of that in terms of getting players on the pitch. That stuff will be more obvious at the end of the four weeks, but at the moment whatever you're dealt that day you get on with and you trust in the system and train hard."

Comparisons between 2007 and 2011 will remain pertinent until the disappointments of the last tournament are utterly extinguished; Reddan's own personal journey allows him to retain enough determination to ensure that he can play a role in redressing the balance.

"Four years ago I was in a very similar spot," he recalls. "I was coming off the back of winning a Heineken Cup and felt very confident during pre-season and was approaching a World Cup with a very good Irish team.

"It's hard. I haven't really sat down and analysed how I felt four years ago compared to now, but I am still pushing to play and I think I was back then as well.

"There are different circumstances. We've got four games now, we're not on tour and it wasn't the case when Eddie was here so it's hard to compare them. The 15 guys that didn't tour the last time changed the dynamic a little bit, but then Eddie couldn't change the tour could he?"

Reddan and his team were doomed to failure against France four years ago. This week, he returns with a chance to chart World Cup dreams on his own terms.

Irish Independent

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